Paid content and subscription services are hot once again thanks to an economic downturn that has reminded online publishers that ad revenues are not impervious.

But paid content isn’t easy online (newspapers can attest to that) and many publishers inevitably fail at making the transition from free to paid. Here are several ways you can boost your chances of succeeding when selling content online.

Offer a free trial.

A free trial offer can be very effective at driving business. How long should a free trial be? That depends on the type of content you provide. A free trial should be long enough to demonstrate the value you offer but short enough to make sure that the consumer’s interest in your offering doesn’t wane.

Bundle tangible products.

Even though we live in the digital age, consumers still love the tangible. If you have a book, DVD or some other tangible product that can be included with a purchase of your online content, consider finding a way to throw it in. Most of the time you’ll be able to boost sales while increasing your prices.

Keep your best content behind the pay wall but don’t get greedy.

There’s a very fine line when it comes to deciding which content should be free and which content should go behind your pay wall. If you give away too much for free, consumers won’t see any reason to pull out their wallets for your paid content. On the other hand, if you get greedy and don’t demonstrate enough with your free content, it’s hard to convince people to spend money on what you claim is the good stuff. The technique I’ve employed with success: for every 4-5 pieces of content that I feel should go behind the pay wall, I set one free.

Other techniques that can work a charm: free email newsletters that upsell paid content and free PDFs/downloads.

Go beyond the content.

When charging for content,
remember that you can offer more than just content. If you’re running a
subscription service, for instance, consider giving subscribers additional functionality, such as access to a members-only community, the ability to engage directly with you in a more extensive fashion than non-subscribers, etc. When you start to think of ‘functionality‘ as content and you’ll probably find half a dozen other things you can offer to entice consumers to pay you.

Spread some free love.

Prior to the launch of one of my paid content sites, my business partner and I picked a couple dozen media/journalists who we thought could benefit from access to our content and who might therefore have reason to incorporate some of it into articles they write. So we gave them free accounts and invited them to peruse our content. Sure enough, our content has received several relevant mentions that we know contributed to sales. Consider creating a small, targeted list of influential people who you’d love to have as a paying customers and make them customers gratis.

Photo credit: AMagill via Flickr.